COVID-19 has touched just about every aspect of our lives. We have learned to live with precautions and restrictions to help keep ourselves healthy. However, what you might not realize is that studies show regular dental care keeps the body optimally healthy. As a result, strong oral health can reduce your risk of having adverse effects should you be exposed to the virus. Here we explain what dental care has to do with viruses including COVID-19.
California Dental Association Journal
According to the California Dental Association Journal, a new study shows how keeping up with your regular dental checkups despite the pandemic can help prevent severe COVID-19 infections. Although you might have stayed away from your dental office out of fear that it was a prime place to catch the virus, you really should be taking the opposite approach, and keep up with regular dental care instead.
Safe Office Procedures
It’s important to remember you can feel confident when visiting your dentist during the pandemic. Dental offices already have to follow very strict protocols to keep their patients safe from cross infections. As a result, they understand the importance of investing in the necessary equipment to reduce the risk of transmission to both their patients and their staff. New protocols strictly adhere to government guidelines, making dental offices even safer than they were pre-pandemic. Proper PPE, stringent wash-downs of chairs and patient rooms, temperature testing, and improved air circulation all contribute to a safe office visit.
Dental Health And Your Respiratory System
According to the study, good dental health helps your respiratory system put up a good fight to resist viral infections like COVID. While it can be hard to see the relationship between the two, it boils down to the bacteria living in our mouths. We all have what is called the oral microbiome that consists of millions of bacteria. Some are good and some are bad. Just like you’ve probably heard about good bacteria in your gut helping to keep you healthy, good oral bacteria help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. However, it is now proven these bacteria can also reduce the risk for serious infections in your lungs.
More Severe Cases Of COVID
The study showed that bad oral bacteria increase the risk of more severe COVID-19 infections if they are breathed into your lungs. This is an easy thing to do, although you probably don’t give it much thought. However, things like saliva can easily be aspirated into your respiratory system. This isn’t exactly news per se, as doctors have known for quite a while that poor dental health can in some cases contribute to inflammatory lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as increased risk for pneumonia. In fact, patients with gum disease actually are more prone to aspirate higher volumes of “bad” oral bacteria. This puts them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 infections including pneumonia.
The study suggests that dentists introduce periodontal screening and treatments as preventative measures against severe cases of COVID-19. It is especially important for patients with pulmonary conditions. If dentists can identify high-risk patients early on, they can recommend customized oral hygiene routines to improve gum health and reduce inflammation sooner. As a result, patients should ensure they keep up with their regular dental exams and cleanings. If you have already been diagnosed with periodontal disease, and have missed your dental exam, now is the time to call our office and catch up with your preventative care.
The study found several biological pathways linking periodontitis and COVID-19 including:
- The combination of oral bacteria and inflammation caused by gum disease negatively impacts the lungs
- Oral pathogens can reach the lungs via aspiration of oral bacteria which in turn can possibly increase the severity of the symptoms and even potentially increase risk for death (?)
- Inflammatory mediators such IL-6 increase cytokines when oral bacteria reaches the lungs, which can change respiratory tissues, decreasing lung function in patients with COVID-19
- Lung issues have been noted in otherwise healthy patients who have periodontitis, making it even more important to address periodontal and dental treatment for people with health issues such as lung disease, and chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension
Another interesting finding is that the psychological stress we experienced during the pandemic also elevates levels of IL-6. So if you experienced stress due to worry of catching the virus, or the financial challenges due to cut hours or job loss, this stress can also factor into your risks. The stress can contribute to periodontal and systemic inflammation with increased IL-6 levels. As a result, you can also increase your risk for COVID-19 complications.
So while you might have avoided your regular dental checkups out of fear of COVID-19 transmission, it could prove to be one of the safest appointments you ever make.
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